The courage of the Stansted 15 in stopping this cruel deportation flight is an inspiration, not a crime, argues Ellen Graubart, reporting on the protest outside the Home Office
A vast crowd of hundreds of angry protesters swarmed the forecourt of the Home Office and spilt onto Marsham Street last night in response to the wholly unjust conviction of 15 young women and men. The Stansted 15 were convicted under a terrorism-related law for locking themselves around a deportation plane at Stansted airport which had been secretly chartered by the Home Office to take people from UK detention centres to Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone on 28 March 2017.
The 15 were acting in defiance against the British state’s creation of a ‘hostile environment’ to stigmatise people who ‘don’t look British’, and for their draconian policies of exclusion and victimisation, of expelling people who have a right to live in the UK, and deporting them to countries where they have little or no connection, no family members or support and where they would be at risk of being killed or seriously harmed. The scandalous policy was introduced by Theresa May as Home Secretary and has been continued by Amber Rudd and now Sajid Javid.
The many speakers, which included Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, Owen Jones, representatives from Amnesty International, the Windrush community, Pride, No Borders, Refugees Welcome, Stand Up To Racism, and not least, the Stansted 15 themselves, unanimously condemned the actions of the Home Office for rounding up and incarcerating people who have lived and worked in the UK for decades, have been born here or were awaiting decisions on asylum, and placed them in terrible conditions and at risk of abuse and torture in detainment centres like Yarlswood, prior to being deported.
The Stansted 15 stopped the deportation of the people on that particular flight, but who knows how many have been sent away to countries where they may be facing destitution or death. Thousands of people from the Windrush generation have been wrongfully deported, children, LGBT people and political dissidents have been forcibly sent to places where their lives are directly in danger, and refugees including children from Calais who were supposed to be brought over under the Dubs Amendment have had their applications rejected without due consideration.
And it isn’t just in Britain, across Europe old borders have been fortified and new borders have shot up between European countries. The EU has hiked funding for Frontex, its border agency responsible for strengthening Europe’s borders against refugees. And meanwhile, over 30,000 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean Sea last year.
The unanimous messages from the platform were not only of outrage, but of their unstoppable determination to fight to the end the evil intent of the UK Home Office to carry on with their horrible and inhumane policy of depriving people they consider to be ‘undesirable’ a right to live and work in the UK. This includes opposing Fortress Britain whether it’s at airports, or detention centres or in the NHS and in schools. “No Human is Illegal”, “No Borders, No Deportations”.
The jailing of activists seems to be a growing trend. A Swedish woman went viral in July when she stopped a flight from taking off with an Afghan asylum seeker being deported, but she now faces prosecution by the Swedish state. In Britain recently, three activists were given lengthy sentences for blocking a fracking site in Lancashire. They were later freed upon appeal, but the trend is disturbing.
The task before all who believe in humanity is now two-fold: that the plight of the Stansted 15 which has made very public a cancerous sore - the violations of human dignity and humans rights of this Government – is a threat we must all take seriously if we wish to retain the right to peacefully protest against injustice; and that we must all take up the fight to demand and achieve the right of every human to a life of dignity, security and freedom from harassment and discrimination – and possible deportation to countries where they may be at risk of being killed or seriously harmed.
The bailing out of the bankers in 2008 and the whole austerity program revealed the establishment’s agenda – blame the poor for the problems created by those at the top of society. The government has claimed for 8 years that austerity is necessary and the price for it has been paid by millions of people driven into poverty, to depending on foodbanks and thousands having to sleep on the streets. But during this same time they have spent tens of millions on chartering flights, building walls like the £7m one in Calais and on detention centres here and “reintegration centres” abroad – like in Kabul, Afghanistan, and on outsourcing to companies like G4S who have been found guilty of grotesque and inhumane practices, which in 2010 resulted in the killing of Jimmy Mubenga.
The Windrush scandal, the Grenfell Tower tragedy have progressively torn aside the curtain of decency that the government has been hiding behind, and now the imprisonment of 15 young people fighting for the rights of fellow human beings has stripped away the flimsy facade. We must continue to fight for justice for the Stansted 15 and against this government’s hostile environment.
Ellen Graubart was born in India of American parents and came to London from Virginia as a teenager to study art. She lives and works as an artist in Hackney. She is a member of Counterfire, Stop the War and Hackney Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
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